Rajani stood giggling and swaying – the kitchen knife was in danger of falling on her feet.
Shikha came and flicked it away.
“Oh you are so funny Shikhs!” Rajani leaned against the counter and clutched her aching stomach. “God I can’t remember when I last laughed so much.”
“Me neither,” admitted Shikha. “Marriage is awful isn’t it?”
“I thought you were happy with your beloved darling Amu?” Rajani asked.
“I am of course. Marriage has its perks,” she winked at Rajani, “but all the accompanying tax is too much. Do this, do that, so boring to cook up meals everyday, clean up the house, grocery shopping, weight lifting,” she rubbed her arm, “big pain. It was so much fun before, with everything getting magically done. But now that my MIL is back in India things are much better.” Shikha sighed. “Now I am the queen of my house. Amu gets me tea in bed, which he didn’t dare do while his mom was around. He even helps in cleaning up the house on weekends and carries the bags so yeah much better now.”
“I am glad.” Rajani smiled.
“Tell me about you. What did you mean Akash stays here?”
“Didi is working in a school, so Akash stays here until she is free.”
“Oh okay. So she will come around lunch time and take him?”
“She comes around 4, has lunch and takes a nap. Then Jiju comes…”
“To pick them up? I suppose his evening tea and snacks are on the house too?”
“And drinks and dinner.” The words slipped out.
Shikha stared. “May as well stay here.” She said.
Rajani turned away. “If we had another room they would. As it is somedays when it gets really late they do and they’ve started leaving Akash here as it is too much of a hassle to take him home at midnight and bring him back in the morning.”
“But it’s okay. I don’t mind. Really.”
“You used to hate staying up late. Must be difficult.”
“I told you. It’s okay. There are bound to be changes in lifestyle and stuff. Akash is a sweetheart. I really love him.” Her face glowed. “His one smile makes everything worthwhile.”
Shikha nodded. “Why don’t you have a baby of your own?”
Rajani flushed. She stirred the pot. “I will when the time is right.” She mumbled.
“And when will that be?”
Rajani shrugged. “Right now my focus is on PhD.”
Shikha nodded. “Oh well. You can have fun practicing until then.” She winked.
Rajani opened the fridge and stuck her head in.
“How are things between you and Haru darling?” Hunky dory? Lovey-dovey?” Shikha’s giggled behind her back. “Come on spill the beans! Don’t be so secretive! I won’t be jealous I promise.”
Rajani straightened, wishing she could spill the beans. But it all seemed tightly locked up in some deep recesses of her heart with no connection to her lips.
“What will you have for lunch? Shall I make…?”
“No!” Shikha protested. “I wanted to go out, hang around, shop a bit, have lunch, catch a movie…”
“That sounds super! Let’s plan it for another day. I’ll take the whole day off…”
“You sound as if you have to take leave from work or something.” Shikha protested.
“Nothing like that,” Rajani brushed her aside. “Just tell me when.”
“I’ll let you know.” Shikha promised. “So how are Uncle and Aunty? Hey! Here’s an idea!” Shikha clicked her fingers excitedly. “How about coming with me to Chandigarh? It will be like old times.”
Rajani glowed before reality struck. “I’ll have to see…”
“What nonsense Rajji! You got married not imprisoned. Surely you have the right to go home?”
“Of course! It’s just that there’s no maid and Akash is here…”
“So we’ll go on a weekend, Rekha will be home right?”
“I guess,” Rajani said doubtfully, “My mother-in-law cannot manage everything alone…”
“Oh please don’t think yourself to be indispensable okay!” Shikha scoffed. “It’s been just about a month that you are here. She was managing before that wasn’t she?”
“Ye…es but she had a maid…”
“And you are the maid now?”
“No Shikhs it’s not like that…”
“I don’t care!” Shikha declared imperiously, setting her glasses firmly on her nose, “you are coming that’s it. You haven’t been home since finishing college have you?”
Rajani shook her head. “Actually I haven’t met them since Diwali last year.”
“See! Not fair. Poor Uncle and Aunty, they must be dying to meet you.”
Rajani was silent.
“How’s your brother and bhabhi?”
“Fine.” Rajani smiled. “Bhabhi is expecting.”
“Congratulations! That’s great news.”
“Yes! All of us are thrilled. We are all waiting eagerly for Diwali.”
“Awesome!” Shikha said. “Is she still working?”
“No.” Rajani shook her head. “She’s in Delhi at her home. They have a clinic downstairs. Maybe…”
“Oh I see.”
“It’s not like that Shikhs.” Rajani rushed to explain. “She was having some pregnancy related complications. She was advised bed rest. She didn’t want to bother Mamma so she…”
“Advised bed rest but she could travel from Chandigarh to Delhi?” Shikha said skeptically.
“Actually she had come to Delhi when there was a bleeding episode and she didn’t go back.”
“Shikhs!” Rajani frowned.
“Oh my poor innocent Buddhoo Rani,” Shikha commiserated, “that Bhabhi of yours is one conniving scheming woman. I am willing to bet that within a year she would have managed to shift your brother to Delhi.”
“Nonsense! Why would she do that?” Rajani was up in arms. “Besides Bhai works at PGI Chandigarh…”
Rajani shook her head. “Not yet but if he hangs around…”
“Which he won’t. Mark my words.”
“What do you know?” Rajani glared at Shikha.
“I’ve been given a crash course on scheming manipulative bahus by my MIL. I can now see through the simplest of actions. And my gut instinct says that your bhabhi…”
“Oh please Shikhs, don’t be such a cynic please.”
“I am a realist Rajji while you know what you are?”
The bell rang.
“Oops!” Flustered Rajani ran to switch off the gas and ran to open the door.
“Kichdi overcooked again?” Sunaina queried. “You know Akash doesn’t like it to be dry and…”
“Namaste Mummyji,” Rajani cut in, “my friend Shikha is here. Hope it is okay?”
She took the sleeping baby from the driver’s arms.
Sunaina turned and spied Shikha. She smiled widely “Of course! This is your house too Rani beta. Hello Shikha. You are looking lovely. Tell your friend to also dress properly. She never listens to me. I tell her as the bahu she should be dressed properly but no, she has no interest. What is that?” She looked at the bucket and mop and then reproachfully at Rajani. “Where you cleaning up?”
Rajani looked guilty. “No I was just…”
“How many times have I told you not to bother? Your mother-in-law is still young.” She laughed heartily. “Besides, didn’t I tell you? A new maid will come this evening.”
“Oh nice!” Rajani brightened. “That’s great. Umm Mummyji, Shikha is going to Chandigarh, sometime next week. Could I go along with her?” She asked in rush. “There wouldn’t be any travel issues and if Shikha stays for long, Bhai can drop me back…”
“Wonderful idea!” gushed Sunaina. “But of course you must go. Your parents would love to meet their daughter. What would you like to eat beta? Rani did you serve her something or were you too busy chatting?”
“No Aunty. I am stuffed. The laddoo and the namkeen were yummy! Rajani told me you were a wonderful cook. You must give me the recipe too.”
“Of course.” Sunaina preened.
“I better get going Mummy will be waiting for lunch.”
“What’s the rush? Sunaina said. “Surely you can have lunch one day with us? Right Rani? Nothing fancy but…”
“No Aunty that’s very sweet of you but I am really not hungry. I had a heavy breakfast. I better leave.” She turned to go giving Rajani a hug. “Will fix the Chandi plan and let you know.”
Rajani’s eyes sparkled as she hugged her back. “Yes. I am very excited.”
Click here for the next chapter: How it is done